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Irene McCabe Mother's March to Washington, DC - 4-27-72

by Matt Delmont

Television cameras from ABC, CBS, and NBC followed McCabe and the other mothers as they arrived in Washington D.C. The coverage on each station picked up the themes that circulated in print coverage of the march over the prior six weeks, emphasizing that the marchers were attempting to bring national political attention to the busing issue, that they had endured physical pain during their long walk Washington, and most importantly, that they undertook the march as mothers. The marchers first stop at the steps of the Capitol, where they met with then Michigan Congressman Gerald Ford, Tennessee Senator William Brock, Massachusetts Congresswoman and antibusing leader Louise Day Hicks, and several other prominent politicians, reminded viewers of the political purpose of the mother’s march. As the mothers walked the final blocks to the antibusing rally on the grounds of the Washington monument, the television reports segued to focus on how the mothers, and especially McCabe, had gamely suffered in support of their cause. Each station mentioned the mothers’ feet and the how sore they were after miles of walking. CBS cut to a medium shot of three of the mothers’ feet, while reporter Tony Sargent said: “Mrs. McCabe and the others all had foot and leg problems along the way, some requiring doctor’s care.” These scenes made the mothers’ suffering, described in dozens of newspapers stories filed during the march, visible to a national television audience. Not coincidentally, McCabe’s speech at the rally picked up this theme, connecting the physical pain of the march and the pain of childbirth to the building of an antibusing coalition. McCabe limped visibly as she approached the podium, outfitted with several microphones. “I can’t believe we walked the whole way,” she told the crowd. I personally have suffered a great deal of pain on this walk. It was far more physically grueling than I ever could have imagined. The only time I have ever been in such pain has been in labor. Whenever you’re in labor, you finally give birth to something beautiful. We’ve labored long and we’ve been through a great deal of pain, but it’s worth it, because we have given birth to the rekindling of the government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Look, you’re here! McCabe claimed the authority to speak based on her status as a mother and her related ability to present a common sense view on a complex political issue. While McCabe’s rhetoric drew on familiar themes of motherhood and populism, television gave her rallying cries a crucial visual component and broadcast her message on a scale inaccessible to the vast majority of grassroots female activists.

Irene McCabe Mother's March to Washington, DC - 4-27-72

Irene McCabe Mother's March to Washington, DC, Antibusing protest, April 27, 1972

from CBS Evening News (1972)
Creator: CBS
Posted by Matt Delmont